Short game principles
As a golf instructor, I am often asked what the most important points are when working on your short game in golf, and the best way to practice. Most of the time, a lot will depend on the level of the golfer and their experience. For someone who is just starting the game but looking to improve, I would advise a consistent length of swing before and after the shot with changeable smooth tempos, which can be adapted to different clubs. It sounds like a lot of elements, but a simple consistent method will help control the clubhead and your scores and will leave you with the time to pick the right shot for the right moment.
For the more advanced player, a little bit of the above would not harm your game but the ability to read the shot, see the line of the shot - where the ball must land and concentration on how hard to hit the ball - becomes more important.
The short game is built around feel and confidence. The feel facture in golf can only be achieved by practice and playing lots of shots around a green. A good sound technique, which you can be re-produced every time, helps to create confidence.
Generally, when a player has problems controlling the ball, it is one of the aforementioned areas where something has gone wrong. Deceleration through impact, over swinging, and swinging too fast, all lead to loss of control of the clubhead and the ball.
In my last article, I discussed how when decelerating through impact, the right-hand can take over causing the leading edge of the club to strike the ball before your hands and arms are at impact. This causes the player to strike the ball too high and fly past the flag. It also means that with the next shot, the player who is worried they will hit the ball too far once again will usually quit on the next shot, duff the ball a couple of feet in front of themselves, and repeat the cycle each time they play.
I have lost count of the number of players who turn up with short game problems only to find their right hand controlling the movement through impact. One it is ingrained it is very difficult to stop it.
How to practice
Presuming you are taking lessons and working with a coach, my first piece of advice is to practice. When a player sees a flag, there's a given target that they must aim for, but if their problems are ingrained this will only lead to tension. By taking the flag away, you will allow yourself to concentrate solely on the movement for the time being, developing good sound movements.
Once you (and your coach, where relevant) feel your starting to get somewhere, then start to introduce a target again learning to set the target at different distances to ensure you are having to adapt the swing as you would on the course.
Another practice tip is to take one club and practice from nine different positions around the green. The difference with this approach is that after chipping the ball onto the green by the flag, you finish it by putting the ball into the hole and recording the score in a book. Over time, you will start to get a picture of your ability and where to improve.